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Royal Shakespeare Theater Mixes Old With New


A portrait of William Shakespeare is pictured in London, painted in 1610 and is believed to be the only surviving picture of William Shakespeare painted in his lifetime (File)

A portrait of William Shakespeare is pictured in London, painted in 1610 and is believed to be the only surviving picture of William Shakespeare painted in his lifetime (File)

Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011, has a new home. VOA's Jennifer Glasse visited the new theater in Shakespeare's home town and filed this report.

British schoolchildren are participatiing in a theater workshop on the stage of the newly renovated Royal Shakespeare Theater in the English town of Stratford-Upon-Avon. Michael Boyd, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, says it is important to introduce the playwright's work to children when they are young.

"Tackle them when they're 8 and they're still learning new vocabulary and they're not fazed by 17th century English, not one bit of it, it's just new amazing words to learn and hurl at each other," he said.

Boyd says the workshops get children up on their feet and acting out the parts rather than just reading them.

"If you face them with Shakespeare as a great work of literature, they'll run a mile, and they'll feel inadequate, but if you give them a chance to be those characters, then they'll run away with it," said Boyd.

The Royal Shakespeare Company will turn 50 next year and the theater has been here since the 19th century. The four-year, $176 million renovation is designed to make the complex fit the needs of the 21st century. Executive director Vikki Heywood.

"The digital age is a really, really important time for us, we are out there, we're on Twitter, we're on Facebook, we're making sure that this building has got all sorts of digital elements to it, but also I think people do still long for the experience where they come together, whether it's a football game or whether it's coming to the theater, people do love the live experience," said Heywood.

In an exhibition room upstairs, there is a digital experience where visitors' comments about Shakespeare are projected onto the wall. It's a living, evolving word sculpture. Nine-year-old Sophie Rice is a Shakespeare fan.

"I think he is important because everyone still enjoys his stories even though they're really old," Rice said.

"I think he's really interesting and lots of his plays are really funny but then they can be sad and dramatic and everything, so he's kind of done it all," said11-year old Holly Bolger.

The renovated theater is a blend of the old and the new, an amalgamation of the remains of the original 19th century Victorian theater and the 1932 Art Deco building. Many of the old features have been preserved, including the original stage. The boards are now the floor of the lobby. Boyd says that was intentional.

"Not one member of the audience can come into this auditorium without stepping on the same boards as Laurence Olivier or Vivien Leigh," said Boyd.

The complex includes a new viewing tower with impressive views over Shakespeare's home town. In the distance is the churchyard where the world's most famous playwright was buried 450 years ago, whose work lives on.

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